Thanksgiving Day is a holiday set aside each year for giving thanks to God for blessings received during the year and is celebrated through feasting and prayer; it is celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada.Thanksgiving is celebrated each year on the second Monday of October in Canada and on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. In Canada, Thanksgiving falls on the same day as Columbus Day in the United States. Because of the longstanding traditions of the holiday, the celebration often extends to the weekend that falls closest to the day it is celebrated.
Thanksgiving in North America had originated from a mix of European and Native traditions. Typically in Europe, festivals were held before and after the harvest cycles to give thanks for a good harvest, and to rejoice together after much hard work with the rest of the community. At the time, Native Americans had also celebrated the end of a harvest season. When Europeans first arrived to the Americas, they brought with them their own harvest festivaltraditions from Europe, celebrating their safe voyage, peace and good harvest. Though the origins of the holiday in both Canada and the United States are similar, Americans do not typically celebrate the contributions made inNewfoundland, while Canadians do not celebrate the contributions made in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
Thanksgiving at Plymouth
In September 1620, a small ship called theMayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower crossedMassachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.
Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.
In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving”—although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three days. While no record exists of the historic banquet’s exact menu, the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow wrote in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for the event, and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer. Historians have suggested that many of the dishes were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, the meal did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts, which have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations.
Thanksgiving Becomes an Official Holiday
Pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving celebration in 1623 to mark the end of a long drought that had threatened the year’s harvest and prompted Governor Bradford to call for a religious fast. Days of fasting and thanksgiving on an annual or occasional basis became common practice in other New England settlements as well. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year, and in 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States; in it, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His successors John Adams and James Madison also designated days of thanks during their presidencies.
In 1817, New York became the first of several states to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday; each celebrated it on a different day, however, and the American South remained largely unfamiliar with the tradition. In 1827, the noted magazine editor and prolific writer Sarah Josepha Hale—author, among countless other things, of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years, she published numerous editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians. Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, in a proclamation entreating all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively as Franksgiving, was met with passionate opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.
In many American households, the Thanksgiving celebration has lost much of its original religious significance; instead, it now centers on cooking and sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends. Turkey, a Thanksgiving staple so ubiquitous it has become all but synonymous with the holiday, may or may not have been on offer when the Pilgrims hosted the inaugural feast in 1621. Today, however, nearly 90 percent of Americans eat the bird—whether roasted, baked or deep-fried—on Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation. Other traditional foods include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Volunteering is a common Thanksgiving Day activity, and communities often hold food drives and host free dinners for the less fortunate.
Parades have also become an integral part of the holiday in cities and towns across the United States. Presented by Macy’s department store since 1924, New York City’s Thanksgiving Day parade is the largest and most famous, attracting some 2 to 3 million spectators along its 2.5-mile route and drawing an enormous television audience. It typically features marching bands, performers, elaborate floats conveying various celebrities and giant balloons shaped like cartoon characters.
Beginning in the mid-20th century and perhaps even earlier, the president of the United States has “pardoned” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year, sparing the birds from slaughter and sending them to a farm for retirement. A number of U.S. governors also perform the annual turkey pardoning ritual.
In the United States
In the United States, the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition traces its origins to a 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-dayMassachusetts. There is also evidence for an earlier celebration on the continent by Spanish explorers in Texas at San Elizario in 1598, as well as thanksgiving feasts in the Virginia Colony. The initial thanksgiving observance at Virginia in 1619 was prompted by the colonists’ leaders on the anniversary of the settlement. The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest. In later years, the tradition was continued by civil leaders such as Governor Bradford who planned a thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623. While initially, the Plymouth colony did not have enough food to feed half of the 102 colonists, the Wampanoag Native Americans helped the Pilgrims by providing seeds and teaching them to fish. The practice of holding an annual harvest festival like this did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s.
According to historian Jeremy Bangs, director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, the Pilgrims may have been influenced by watching the annual services of Thanksgiving for the relief of the siege of Leiden in 1574, while they were staying in Leiden.
The claim of where the first Thanksgiving was held in the United States, and even the Americas, has often been a subject of debate. Author and teacher Robyn Gioia andMichael Gannon of the University of Florida have argued that the earliest attested “Thanksgiving” celebration in what is now the United States was celebrated by theSpanish on September 8, 1565, in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida.
Similarly, many historians point out that the first thanksgiving celebration in the United States was held in Virginia, and not in Plymouth. Thanksgiving services were routine in what was to become the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607. A day of Thanksgiving was codified in the founding charter of Berkeley Hundred inCharles City County, Virginia in 1619.
Fixing the date of the holiday
The reason for the earlier Thanksgiving celebrations in Canada has often been attributed to the earlier onset of winter in the north, thus ending the harvest season earlier. Thanksgiving in Canada did not have a fixed date until the late 19th century. Prior to Canadian confederation, many of the individual colonial governors of the Canadian provinces had declared their own days of Thanksgiving. The first official Canadian Thanksgiving occurred on April 15, 1872 when the nation was celebrating the Prince of Wales‘ recovery from a serious illness. By the end of the 19th Century, Thanksgiving Day was normally celebrated on November 6. However, whenWorld War I ended, the Armistice Day holiday was usually held during the same week. To prevent the two holidays from clashing with one another, in 1957 the Canadian Parliament proclaimed Thanksgiving to be observed on its present date on the second Monday of October. Since 1971, when the American Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect, the American observance of Columbus Day has coincided with the Canadian observance of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving in the United States, much like in Canada, was observed on various dates throughout history. The dates of Thanksgiving in the era of the Founding Fathersuntil the time of Lincoln had been decided by each state on various dates. The first Thanksgiving celebrated on the same date by all states was in 1863 by presidential proclamation. The final Thursday in November had become the customary date of Thanksgiving in most U.S. states by the beginning of the 19th century. And so, in an effort by President Abraham Lincoln (influenced by the campaigning of author Sarah Josepha Hale who wrote letters to politicans for around 40 years trying to make it an official holiday), to foster a sense of American unity between the Northern and Southern states, proclaimed the date to be the final Thursday in November.
It was not until December 26, 1941 that the unified date changed to the fourth Thursday (and not always final) in November—this time by federal legislation. PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt, after two years earlier offering his own proclamation to move the date earlier, with the reason of giving the country an economic boost, agreed to sign a bill into law with Congress, making Thanksgiving a national holiday on the fourth Thursday in November.
Observance around the world
Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day (Canadian French: Jour de l’Action de grâce), occurring on the second Monday in October, is an annual Canadian holiday to give thanks at the close of the harvest season. Although the original act of Parliament references God and the holiday is celebrated in churches, the holiday is mostly celebrated in a secular manner. Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday in all provinces in Canada, except for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. While businesses may remain open in these provinces, the holiday is nonetheless, recognized and celebrated regardless of its status.
In the West Indian island of Grenada, there is a national holiday known as Thanksgiving Day which is celebrated on October 25. Even though it bears the same name, and is celebrated at roughly the same time as the American and Canadian versions of Thanksgiving, this holiday is unrelated to either of those celebrations. Instead the holiday marks the anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of the island in 1983, in response to the deposition and execution of Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.
Many of the Pilgrims who migrated to the Plymouth Plantation had resided in the city of Leiden from 1609–1620, many of whom had recorded their birth, marriages and deaths at the Pieterskerk. To commemorate this, a non-denominational Thanksgiving Day service is held each year on the morning of the American Thanksgiving Day in the Pieterskerk, a Gothic church in Leiden, to commemorate the hospitality the Pilgrims received in Leiden on their way to the New World.
In the Australian external territory of Norfolk Island, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the last Wednesday of November, similar to the pre-World War II American observance on the last Thursday of the month. This means the Norfolk Island observance is the day before or six days after the United States’ observance. The holiday was brought to the island by visiting American whaling ships.
Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving Day, currently celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November by federal legislation in 1941, has been an annual tradition in the United States by presidential proclamation since 1863 and by state legislation since the Founding Fathers of the United States. Historically, Thanksgiving began as a tradition of celebrating the harvest of the year.
- ^ “The World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 7”. World Book Encyclopedia. 2002. Retrieved October 20, 2011. “Thanksgiving Day is a day set aside each year for giving thanks to God for blessings received during the year. On this day, people give thanks with feasting and prayer. It is celebrated in the United States and Canada.”
- ^ Hazel Meadows (2011). “Twelve Holidays”. Dorrance Publishing Co.. Retrieved October 20, 2011. “Thanksgiving Day-a holiday set aside for giving thanks to God. On Thanksgiving Day, many people from the United States and Canada give thanks for blessings received during the year with feasting and prayer.”
- ^ “The American Stationer, Volume 40”. The American Stationer. 26 November 1896. Retrieved October 20, 2011. “As a holiday Thursday will be observed throughout the entire United States, and in Canada also, as November 26 has been designated by both Governments as the day upon which the people shall unite in giving thanks to God for blessings received.”
- ^ a b c d Morill, Ann “Thanksgiving and Other Harvest Festivals” Infobase Publishing, ISBN 1-6041-3096-2 p.28
- ^ Morill, Ann “Thanksgiving and Other Harvest Festivals” Infobase Publishing, ISBN 1-6041-3096-2 p.29-30
- ^ “The three voyages of Martin Frobisher: in search of a passage to Cathai and India by the northwest AD 1576-1578”.
- ^ Morill, Ann “Thanksgiving and Other Harvest Festivals” Infobase Publishing, ISBN 1-6041-3096-2 p.31
- ^ a b c Solski, Ruth “Canada’s Traditions and Celebrations” McGill-Queen’s Press, ISBN 1-5503-5694-1 p.12
- ^ “Port-Royal National Historic Site of Canada”. National Historic Sites. Parks Canada. Retrieved 8 December 2010.
- ^ C.Michael Hogan. 2011. Thanksgiving. Eds. Cutler Cleveland & Peter Saundry. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC
- ^ “The First Thanksgiving Proclamation — June 20, 1676”. The Covenant News. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
- ^ Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, pp. 120-121.
- ^ Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation, pp. 135-142.
- ^ The fast and thanksgiving days of New England by William DeLoss Love, Houghton, Mifflin and Co., Cambridge, 1895
- ^ Kaufman, Jason Andrew “The origins of Canadian and American political differences” Harvard University Press, 2009, ISBN 0-6740-3136-9 p.28
- ^ Jeremy Bangs. “Influences”. The Pilgrims’ Leiden. Retrieved 2010-09-11.
- ^ Wilson, Craig (2007-11-21). “Florida teacher chips away at Plymouth Rock Thanksgiving myth”. Usatoday.com. Retrieved 2011-09-05.
- ^ Davis, Kenneth C. (2008-11-25). “A French Connection”. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2011-09-05.
- ^ a b Morill, Ann “Thanksgiving and Other Harvest Festivals” Infobase Publishing, ISBN 1-6041-3096-2 p.33
- ^ “The First Thanksgiving Proclamation — 20 June 1676”. The Covenant News. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
- ^ a b Kaufman, Jason Andrew “The origins of Canadian and American political differences” Harvard University Press, 2009, ISBN 0-6740-3136-9p.29
- ^ “Paid public holidays”. WorkRights.ca.
- ^ “Thanksgiving – is it a Statutory Holiday?”. Government of Nova Scotia. Retrieved 2008-10-13.
- ^ “Statutes, Chapter E-6.2” (PDF). Government of Prince Edward Island. Retrieved 2008-10-13.
- ^ “RSNL1990 Chapter L-2 – Labour Standards Act”. Assembly of Newfoundland. Retrieved 2008-10-13.
- ^ “Statutory Holidays” (PDF). Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, Canada. Archived from the original on 2008-02-29.
- ^ Official website of the government of Grenada
- ^ “Vice President Boakai Joins Catholic Community in Bomi to Celebrate Thanksgiving Day”. The Executive Mansion. Republic of Liberia. 2010-11-05. Retrieved 2010-11-28.
- ^ Consulate General of the United States, Amsterdam. “Thanksgiving Day Events in the Netherlands, 2007”. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2010-10-02.[dead link]
- ^ “Dutch town”. The World (radio program). Retrieved 2008-11-28. “The Pilgrims arrived in Leiden in 1609, after fleeing religious persecution in England. Leiden welcomed them because it needed immigrants to help rebuild its textile industry, which had been devastated by a long revolt against Spain. Here, the Pilgrims were allowed to worship as they wanted, and they even published their arguments calling for the separation of church and state. Jeremy Bangs directs the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum. He says the Pilgrims quickly adopted several Dutch customs, like civil marriage and Thanksgiving.”
- ^ Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department website
- ^ “Thanksgiving Day”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2009-11-03.
- Dow (Abenaki), Judy; Slapin, Beverly (2006-06-12). “Deconstructing the Myths of “The First Thanksgiving””. Oyate.org. Retrieved 2010-11-29.
For some scholars, the jury is still out on whether the feast at Plymouth really constituted the first Thanksgiving in the United States. Indeed, historians have recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America that predate the Pilgrims’ celebration. In 1565, for instance, the Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilé invited members of the local Timucua tribe to a dinner in St. Augustine, Florida, after holding a mass to thank God for his crew’s safe arrival. On December 4, 1619, when 38 British settlers reached a site known as Berkeley Hundred on the banks of Virginia’s James River, they read a proclamation designating the date as “a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
Some Native Americans and others take issue with how the Thanksgiving story is presented to the American public, and especially to schoolchildren. In their view, the traditional narrative paints a deceptively sunny portrait of relations between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people, masking the long and bloody history of conflict between Native Americans and European settlers that resulted in the deaths of millions. Since 1970, protesters have gathered on the day designated as Thanksgiving at the top of Cole’s Hill, which overlooks Plymouth Rock, to commemorate a “National Day of Mourning.” Similar events are held in other parts of the country.
Thanksgiving’s Ancient Origins
Although the American concept of Thanksgiving developed in the colonies of New England, its roots can be traced back to the other side of the Atlantic. Both the Separatists who came over on theMayflower and the Puritans who arrived soon after brought with them a tradition of providential holidays—days of fasting during difficult or pivotal moments and days of feasting and celebration to thank God in times of plenty.
As an annual celebration of the harvest and its bounty, moreover, Thanksgiving falls under a category of festivals that spans cultures, continents and millennia. In ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans feasted and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. Thanksgiving also bears a resemblance to the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Finally, historians have noted that Native Americans had a rich tradition of commemorating the fall harvest with feasting and merrymaking long before Europeans set foot on their shores.
HOW TO: Roast a Turkey
Thanksgiving: a time for families to get together and fight like cats and dogs over the delicious bits of golden, perfectly roasted turkey. Or maybe just fight like cats and dogs over nothing.
If you’re hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, we can’t stop the old sibling resentments from bubbling up, but we can help you make sure your turkey is golden, moist and delicious.
Here’s our guide to roasting the perfect turkey.
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What you’ll need
- Turkey. Plan on about one and one half pounds of uncooked turkey per person. Much of that weight is bones, so the final portion works out to more like 8 to 10 ounces per person. When in doubt, use an online calculator. Not all turkeys are sold equal — for the best flavor, avoid the frozen birds and go with a local meat shop if you can. Ask your butcher about freshness and buy organic if that’s important to you. Also consider a kosher turkey.
- Large roasting pan and V-rack. Make sure you have something that’s big enough to hold your turkey, but that still fits in your oven. If you don’t have a V-rack, just line the bottom of your roasting pan with a dozen or so carrots.
- Meat thermometer. Forget those pop up thermometers that come pre-packaged with some turkeys and get a real thermometer.
- Turkey baster. Yes, it’s more work to baste the bird as it cooks, but the results are worth the effort.
- Kitchen twine. For tying the turkey’s legs together.
- Stock pot or brining bag if you want to brine your turkey, which we’d recommend. It’s juicier and tastier that way.
Tip: Some turkeys are already brined before you purchase them. Make sure your turkey hasn’t been brined before. Otherwise, the meat will be very salty.
To bring out the flavor in your turkey, brine it before you cook it. Brine is simply a mixture of salt water with some spices and herbs added. Brining the bird helps ensure the salt penetrates into the flesh and brings out the full flavor while keeping the meat moist and juicy.
Ideally, you’ll want to prepare your brine a day or two before the main event. You’ll need a large stock pot big enough to totally submerge your turkey in the brine, or just use a turkey brining bag. You have to keep the bird chilled while you brine it overnight, so which method you use will depend on whether or not your stock pot will fit in your fridge.
This article is part of a wiki anyone can edit. If you have advice to add, log in and contribute.
Make the brine
In a large stock pot, combine two gallons of water and two cups of kosher salt. Add about a tablespoon each of black pepper, rosemary, sage, thyme, savory, bay leaves and whatever other herbs or spices you’d like and bring the whole thing to a boil.
Once the salt is dissolved, remove the pot from the heat, and let it cool to room temperature. Move it into the fridge overnight, or for at least an hour or two to get it cold.
Dunk the bird
To get the turkey ready, remove the gizzard, neck and any other extras included with your turkey. Wash the bird both inside and out.
Drop your turkey directly into the cold brine and put the stock pot in the fridge.
If your fridge isn’t big enough, use a brining bag. Put the turkey in the bag, fill up the bag with brine and place it in a cooler or large bucket. Pack ice around the bag and put it in the coolest spot in your house, like the garage. Just make sure the temperature stays around 40°F (4°C).
If your turkey is of average size (around 10-12 pounds), 12 hours in the brine should do it. A bigger bird (around 16-20 pounds) should soak for 18 hours.
Or, don’t brine it
If you brine a turkey, you may not be able to use the roasting juices to make a proper gravy. If you want to make a pan gravy, don’t brine the turkey.
Alternatively, just rub it thoroughly inside and out with kosher (non-iodized) salt. You can use flavored salts, adding various herbs and spices to the rub if you wish. Do this as the bird defrosts in the refrigerator, approximately 24-48 hours before roasting.
Pull your turkey out of the brine and place it breast-side down on your V-rack inside the roasting pan. Pour a cup or two of water into the roasting pan underneath the turkey.
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C) and move the oven rack to its lowest position.
If you aren’t worried about fat, brush a bit of melted butter over the turkey. This will help ensure crispy, golden skin. Alternatively, you can smear it with a garlic-herb butter. If nothing else, rub the bird (inside and out) with salt, pepper and any other seasonings you want.
If you’re making stuffing, now would be the time to stuff it inside the bird. You can also stuff it with coarsely chopped root vegetables. Once stuffed, tie the back legs together using your kitchen twine.
When the oven is hot, place the turkey inside. Cook the turkey for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350°F (175°C). Roasting it for a short period at the initial higher temperature helps make the skin crispy.
There are all sorts of formulas for how long your should roast your turkey. The rule of thumb is 90-120 minutes, but every bird and oven are different. The best way to do it is to use your meat thermometer. Cook it until the breast temperature reaches 165-170°F, and thigh temperature reaches 175-180°F. In Celsius, that’s 75°C for the breast and 80°C for the thigh.
Every half hour or so, use your baster to suck up the pan drippings and pour them onto the back and the legs.
When the breast and leg temperatures are where they should be, pull your turkey out of the oven and cover it with an aluminum foil “tent”. Let the turkey rest at least twenty minutes before serving.
Once your turkey has spent 20-30 minutes under the tent, carve it up. You’ll need a carving knife and a carving fork, a big cutting board, and a big platter.
Here are a few different approaches from some of our trusted sources: